“Bang! Thunder kicks. Rain falls. Incessant. In the small town of Castle. There is indolence and apathy. Three brothers make it their mission to keep from being washed away.”
If the above publicity blurb seems frustratingly abstruse, West Liang’s World Premiere drama Their Eyes Saw Rain does little to clarify the confusion despite the best efforts of all concerned.
Program notes describe Castle as “a small town somewhere in America,” though its inhabitants’ speech patterns suggest somewhere in southern Appalachia or the Ozarks, a hillbilly dialect that seems an odd, unnecessary choice, and one that can get in the way of an audience’s seeing brothers Terrance, Joanus (pronounced Jonas), and Billy, and fellow townsfolk Fable, Jake, Peach, and Rosetta as anything other than local yokels.
It takes a good while to even begin to figure out just who these three young adult brothers are and what exactly their plans are to keep Castle from “being washed away.”
Here’s what I gathered by the end of Act One.
Eldest brother Terrance (Liang) has been under the weather (to put it mildly) since the death of his father some seven months back. Middle brother Joanus (Kavin Panmeechao) has fallen for the comely but poor-white-trashy young single mother Peach (Samantha Klein), who is also being pursued by Sheriff Jake (James Thomas Gilbert), a dangerously unhinged sort of guy whose job allows him to pack a pistol wherever he goes, a fact which bodes ill for for at least one of the Castle-folk. Youngest brother Billy (Marc Pelina) seems caught between his older siblings, while folksy middle-aged couple Fable and Rosetta (Oscar T. Basulto and Pamela Guest) are around to give paternal-maternal advice. Terrance wants to reopen the town’s empty school, Billy wants to start a restaurant (once he has mastered all the recipes in his giant-sized cookbook), and everyone just wants it to stop raining…or are these seven months of rain merely a figment of Terrance’s imagination?
Under Justin Huen’s direction, Their Eyes Saw Rain sets a relentlessly grim, foreboding tone, heightened by Howard Ho’s spectacular sound design and Huen’s stark, dramatic lighting, just two of the elements that make Their Eyes Saw Rain at the very least one of the best designed productions you’re likely to see any time soon.
Still touches of humor might have made for a more accessible play, that and a rethinking of the countrified speech that makes it difficult for the cast to convince us that these are anything more than mountain folk in need of a remedial grammar class. That being said, the entire cast do have their effective moments (Gregory Niebel completing the ensemble in the dual roles of Dr. Landy and Daddy), though some are more adept than others at the backwoods dialect they are required to affect. The playwright is also to be commended for having written non-stereotypical (and in fact non-racially specific) roles for himself and the two other Asian-American actors portraying his siblings.
Gregory A Crouch’s imaginative scenic design makes great use of Company Of Angels expansive third-floor space in downtown L.A.’s historic Alexandria Hotel, though seating is as cramped as I’ve ever felt in a Los Angeles theater, and heaven forbid one should be seated next to anyone of above-average girth. (Thank goodness I wasn’t.) Jackie Gudgel gets high marks for her costume designs, Art McDermott for his props, Edgar Landa for some thrillingly realistic fight choreography, and yes, rain does indeed fall before your very eyes.
Their Eyes Saw Rain is produced by Richard Azurdia for Company Of Angels. Jennifer Perez is stage manager, Adam Gonzalez assistant stage manager, and Luis Galindo assistant scenic designer.
Other reviewers have reacted considerably more positively than this one to Liang’s play, and it should be noted that these last two weekends of its run are a by-popular-demand extension into the New Year. Ultimately, though, Their Eyes Saw Rain ends up too abstract and avant-garde for this particular reviewer’s tastes.
Company of Angels at The Alexandria, 501 S. Spring St., Los Angeles.
January 6, 2013
Photos: Company Of Angels